CAMDEN, NJ — Carmen Stokes swirled a few brush strokes to put the final touches on her window painting: a large, animated avocado.
Next to it on neighboring panes, an apple, a globe, a carrot, and other designs accompanied by motivational sayings, all in the theme of “healthy living,” faced out to the parking lot from the second-floor room of the Boys and Girls Club in East Camden.
The cartoony rendering of the bumpy fruit was Stokes' pick from a hat of image ideas to brighten up the spirits of local youth.
“When the kids that are here (for the program) come today, they'll say, 'Oh wow, what happened?' " Stokes said.
The window illustrations rounded out a morning of volunteering on Wednesday for staff members of the Camden City School District and Aramark, the Philadelphia-based food services and facilities provider partnered with the district.
In addition to completing the colorful, inspirational art for students to see each day, volunteers completed trim painting and revamped eight bulletin boards in the after-school space, housed within the Octavius V. Catto Community School building.
Joel Hernandez, the Aramark general manager for the district, said the activities served as part of the annual Aramark Building Community Day, which actually occurred company-wide Thursday. The occasion brings out thousands of employees in cities around the globe for service projects.
"We often get caught up in our day-to-day lives that we want to make sure that, as a company, we just stop for a second and give back to the communities not only that we work in, but also the communities that we're from," said Hernandez, who grew up attending Camden public schools. "It's a great opportunity for us to give back and impact the students' lives. Just painting some windows, it's a very simple task but you'd be surprised by how impactful it is with the student."
The Boys and Girls Club undertakes the window project every year with different volunteers, he said, so signing up, lending a hand, and applying the Aramark healthy initiative theme was a natural fit.
"It's just (about) brightening the students' day up and providing some type of educational feedback throughout the school year," he said.
Sabine Mehnert-Roehm, director of development with Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, said the effort "makes a huge difference" for the children, who are shown that the community truly cares.
"They're having a team-building activity but our kids are benefitting from it directly," she said.
Some of the volunteers each year turn out to be former club attendees and get to share their experiences, while many others unfamiliar with the program get to learn about what the organization truly offers, she said.
The organization's after-school program provides daily assistance with homework, snack, and physical activity for children ages 6 to 12. And each day brings a new club offering: Mentor Mondays and Wacky Wednesdays, to name a couple.
Although its East Camden facilities are attached to the Catto school, the program is open to more than just those students; children are bussed in from a number of city schools.
Other bonuses for students including cooking classes and utilizing a sound studio to write, produce, and record original songs.
"It's so much more than just homework help," Mehnert-Roehm said. "It makes a difference."